Virtual collaboration

Sole and Edmondson (2002) have described some of the likely challenges facing project managers and managers of distributed teams. Their in-depth qualitative study saw virtual teams grapple with differences in time zones as well as non face-to-face communication media. They quote an engineer as saying:

On each of these dispersed projects, our big challenge is that we just don't get together as a team because we're spread so far apart. So it forces us to collaborate ... but to do that in non-traditional ways where we can't just have a meeting or work with each other across the hall.

Their findings suggest that spending time together helps to create a foundation for team effectiveness beyond the current

This paper was accepted by referees for presentation at the Networked Learning Conference Lancaster April 2004 and an earlier version is contained within the Conference Proceedings.

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing 20/4/5 (2005) 211-217

e Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0885-8624] [DOI 10.1108/08858620510603882]

Elizabeth Houldsworth and Gillian Alexander task in hand. In addition re-location and co-location across the dispersed teams was found to be an effective strategy for team learning. Therefore moving people physically, if not for the duration of the project at least for a period, was encouraged to allow for participation in certain key events.

Similarly, Granovetter (1985), has underlined the social nature of business interactions through the concept of embeddedness. This perspective suggests that all economic action, including that of organizations is enabled, constrained and shaped by social ties among individuals. Uzzi (1997) is just one author who has built on these concepts in a study of 23 entrepreneurial firms to suggest, amongst other things, the personal nature of inter-firm ties and how these can impact organisational and economic outcomes.

In a 2003 study Tregaski focused on three foreign-owned subsidiaries in the UK, which she names as TelCo, WaterCo and InksCo. She also discovered that face-to-face contact is important in facilitating development activity. Tregaski's findings suggest that location is important for collaboration. She reports management teams as believing that it is far better to use locally available expertise, familiar with the industry and its problems, than to buy in from further afield.

These examples, from the increasing body of literature on learning networks, suggest that the future looks set to involve harnessing technology to a greater degree. It would appear that technologies will be used both to deliver content and to support and manage learning, but also to support virtual networks, both within and across organizations.

The context for this paper is our interest in considering learning within a situated and social context, as described by Lave and Wenger (1991) and Chaiklin and Lave (1993) amongst others. We recognize that this learning may be technologically supported, for example using e-learning and computer mediated conferencing (CMC), or not.

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